Game over. Restart. It's an option familiar in the virtual worlds of video games but, alas, not in real life. The new sci-fi action movie "Edge of Tomorrow" uses the narrative structure of a video game to present a "what-if" scenario: What if we could keep pressing "restart" every time we fail?
That's a fantasy that's been dramatically explored before, in works like David Ives' playlet "Sure Thing" and Harold Ramis' 1993 film "Groundhog Day." "Edge of Tomorrow" -- based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's light novel "All You Need Is Kill" -- doesn't have anything new to contribute, other than wedding the concept to a different genre, but it's a good fit, resulting in a fairly eye-popping futuristic war story with a clever (to a point) structure.
Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage of U.S. Army Media Relations. With Earth losing a war to powerful tentacular, mouth-glowing aliens, Cage is content being just shy of a draft dodger, with little more than decades-earlier, never-applied ROTC training to fall back on should he find himself in combat. And find himself in combat he does when he ticks off General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), gets busted down to private, and winds up on a suicide mission. Cruise nicely plays Cage's anti-heroic freak-outs, which add flavor and stoke a rooting interest in his surviving long enough to redeem himself.
In a sequence that suggests the alien-war equivalent of D-Day, the Army lands on the West Coast of France and proceeds to get slaughtered by the aliens. But when Cage gets face-fried with alien goop, he reawakens with a start a day before the battle. As he repeatedly relives the day, he eventually discovers that Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) -- celebrated as the "Angel of Verdun" -- holds the key to the mystery of what's happening to him, and together, they may be the only two people who can save humanity.
Basically, "Edge of Tomorrow" follows the same beats as "Groundhog Day," but raising the stakes. Cage first must work through his Cassandra complex, then accept his lot and work to change his situation for the better. By nature of the plot device, "Edge of Tomorrow" also implicitly deals with some philosophical questions about how we live our lives: We only get one shot at any given interaction or situation, but if we could heighten our sensitivities, we could communicate much better, get much further, and even see strangers as they really are rather than writing them off in an instant. And, as in "Groundhog Day," the protagonist learns selflessness and finds love.
The acting is expectedly solid (Bill Paxton has some fun with the role of Cage's befuddled master sergeant), and thanks to director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity"), the impressively realized battle sequences are rip-roaring. It's all a bit wearying by the home stretch, and a resolution that (like much of the film that precedes it) only sort of makes sense. But it's summer, and we're not supposed to think too much at the movies. This is a game worth playing once, though you probably won't be dying to push "Restart" any time soon.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material. One hour, 53 minutes.